Story Cue Card

The King With Dirty Feet



Title (Best Version for Telling)

The King With Dirty Feet



Pomme Clayton



Medlicott, Mary.  Tales for Telling from Around the World. New York:  Kingfisher Books, 1992.  pp. 10-16.


Ethnic Origin



Running Time

7 Minutes



The King, Gabu the Servant, The Old Man in the Village, Villagers


Power Centers

1.       The childishness and silliness of the King (doesn't like baths, can't figure out why his feet get dirty)

2.       Gabu's fear and how it motivates him to try to solve the problem of keeping the King's feet clean

3.       The simple wisdom of the old man who finally comes up with a solution for the problem of keeping the King's feet clean



1.       The King in his Palace getting smellier and smellier

2.       The King walking to the river and bathing, realizing he has a problem keeping his feet clean, and ordering Gabu to solve the problem

3.       The villagers sweeping to get rid of the dust in the kingdom

4.       The villagers covering the ground with water to get rid of the dust in the kingdom

5.       The villagers covering the ground with leather

6.       The Old Man in the village finding a true solution to the problem of the King's dirty feet



The silly king does not like to take baths.  Finally, after one year without a bath, even the king cannot stand his own smelliness. He bathes in the river to the great relief and excitement of all the village.  When he steps out of the river, his feet are immediately dusty again.  Supposing that he forgot to wash them during his bath, he steps back into the river to scrub them clean. Each time he gets out of the river his feet get dirty again.  When the King finally realizes that the dust of the land is the problem, he orders his servant Gabu to get rid of the dust.  Gabu has three days to accomplish the task, or he will lose his head!


With the help of the villagers, Gabu tries first to sweep away the dust.  Next they try to wash away the dust.  Finally, they sew scraps of leather together to cover all the earth in the village.  The King is pleased with this solution until a wise old villager reminds the king that as long as the earth is covered, nothing can grow.  The animals will starve and the people will go hungry in the land.  The old man shows the king a better way to keep his feet clean; he cuts the leather to the right size so that he can cover his feet with leather pieces.  This is how shoes came into being.



Rhymes/Special Phrases/"Flavor":

"Zut" - the King's expression for the sound of cutting off someone's head

"Swish, swish, swish" - Sound of the whole village sweeping

"Sloosh, sloosh, sloosh" - Sound of the whole village pouring water

"Stitch, stitch, stich" - Sound of the whole village sewing



Preschool, ages 3-5.   This story could also be used for older elementary children.  The way I plan to tell it, however, is well suited to younger children for many reasons, as suggested in "Storytelling Art & Technique" by Ellin Greene.  First, the plot is simple, predictable and easy to follow.  There are also a small number of characters for the children to remember.  Second, there is a nice blend of fantasy and reality; the King really would get dirty feet when he walks in the dust, but the villagers really couldn't flood the village by pouring water on it all day long.  Third, there are elements of word repetition that are appealing to young children.  Lastly, but maybe most importantly, I think the children will be hooked on the story instantly when they learn in the opening that the King hates to take a bath!


Bibliographic Information on the other version

Pearson, Maggie. The Fox and the Rooster and Other Tales.  Waukesha, WI:  Little Tiger Press, 1997.  pp. 64-68.


Brief comparison of version/variant in terms of language, rhythm, "tellability," "flavor," content, etc.

I chose to do the version by Pomme Clayton for my telling because I thought it had more appeal for a younger audience.  It allowed me to characterize the King as a silly guy, and Gabu as a fearful servant, which makes for a more dynamic story than the other version, which does not include a servant.  In the version by Maggie Pearson, the King never realizes for himself that he smells bad, but is told by a little girl who is too young to know that you don't say such a thing to a king.  In the version I choose to tell, the King realizes himself that he needs a bath, and less time in the story is devoted to what the King does before he goes down to the river.  The two versions are almost identical in the scene where the King goes in and out of the water trying to figure out why his feet aren't clean.   In the Pearson version, little time is spent on ridding the land of dust, but it is immediately covered up with a leather carpet.  The Clayton version offers the chance to use repetitive phrases like "Sloosh, sloosh, sloosh" by emphasizing the way Gabu and the villagers try to solve the problem.  The three solutions (sweeping, pouring water, and covering the land with leather) are all given equal emphasis and time.  Both versions ultimately resolve the problem of the King's dirty feet by creating shoes for him from the leather that has been placed to cover the earth.  In the Pearson version, the same little girl from the beginning of the story comes up with this solution of shoes only after the land has been covered with leather for a year and all the plants have died.  In the Clayton version, a wise old villager resolves the problem in the same way, but he comes up with his solution immediately after the leather has been sewn together.  It takes the wisdom and foresight of a wise old man to anticipate what will happen in the future if the land remains covered.